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Editorial: You can slow the spread of COVID-19 – Here’s how 

COVID Paso RObles - San Luis Obispo update

Dr. Penny Borenstein

–By Dr. Penny Borenstein, San Luis Obispo County Health Officer

San Luis Obispo County has been through a lot in the past six months since our first case of COVID-19 was diagnosed. Many of us have stayed home to slow the spread of this disease, while others have worked tirelessly providing essential services to our neighbors. Most of us changed the way we do business and resumed our favorite activities with modifications. And we are all facing this COVID-19 challenge as a community.

And yet, this pandemic is not a static event. Every day the world learns more about the virus and what people need to do to overcome it. As our community responds to these new developments and contends with rumors and misinformation, it can sometimes feel like the ground is forever shifting underneath us.

In some ways, that is real. We must continue to adapt, but I’d like to step back for a moment and say very clearly: We are on solid ground when it comes to the individual actions we can each take.

You can slow the spread. Our community knows what we need to do to protect our most vulnerable neighbors. We know how to slow the spread so we can get our schools and businesses back open. We know how to look out for each other and what actions to take at this very difficult moment in history, even if those actions are unpleasant or difficult.

This virus is challenging us to look at our own behavior differently and embrace reliable truths as we face change and uncertainty. From a public health perspective, I want to tell you clearly and without question that the most important steps for us all to take are:

1. Cover your face when you go out in public. While I have always recommended this, I was hesitant to make it a requirement several months ago based on the evidence at that time and our local situation at that time. That time has changed. I will say very clearly: the evidence is now overwhelmingly clear that face coverings are critically important to slowing the spread of COVID-19. They protect your neighbors. New evidence suggests they may also protect you, the wearer, more than we previously thought. A small number of people are unable to wear a face covering for medical or mental health reasons and I ask all community members to extend courtesy to those in this situation. However, most people can safely cover their face. Wearing a face covering is a critically important and required action.

2. Do not yell, chant, laugh, sing or exercise close to other people. I know we associate these activities with joy. But these activities are sadly very effective ways to spread pathogens and seriously harm the people we care about. If you yell, chant, laugh, sing, or exercise close to others, you are spraying organisms onto your friends and neighbors. This is especially true if you are not covering your nose and mouth. This is not new or emerging evidenceit is a long-established fact of how disease spreads.

3. Do not gather with other people outside your household. Our data is very clear that many SLO County cases are being spread at social gatherings of family and friends. You would never host a dinner party or a BBQ when you have the flu. You wouldn’t go on a trip with friends if you were sick with norovirus or another stomach bug. We know better. We just need to remember how this virus spreads: in many cases, almost half, the infected person has no symptoms at all.

4. Stay home when you are sick. This might go without saying, except it can be difficult in our culture, especially in these tough economic times, to stay away from work. So I want to remind you: it is critically important for protecting our most vulnerable neighbors. There are new resources available to support you so you can stay home when you are sick. You can find some of these at

5. And of course: Wash your hands. Don’t touch your face. Sanitize frequently touched surfaces.

I commit to you yet again that we will continue to learn, follow the research very closely, and analyze our local situation.

I ask you: Do the right thing for yourself, for your friends and family, for our community. Take these steps to help our community find its way back to school and business openings. These very simple steps can stop the chain of transmission before the virus reaches our most vulnerable neighbors. By doing these things, you will spare others the struggles of severe illness or death as we weather this very difficult storm together.

As we all continue to learn more, our goal remains unchanged: We must find a way to live with this virus so that we can limit its spread in SLO County, protect our most vulnerable neighbors, and enjoy activities that bolster our physical and mental health.

Together, we can and will get through this. Please do your part to slow the spread.